Violent conflicts - main driver of food insecurity

By Joanna Kedzierska

Violent conflicts - main driver of food insecurity

Violent conflicts continue to be the main cause of food insecurity and as the latter is a trigger of conflicts, the two form a vicious circle that is difficult to break. A recent report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) noted that of the 155 million people who experienced food insecurity globally in 2020, 100 million were living in countries stricken by violent conflicts.

The global pandemic significantly contributed to the problem, causing the most vulnerable to be even more exposed. Although 2020 brought lockdowns and movement restrictions, the number of conflicts increased.

As many as 80% of humanitarian organizations have reported an escalation in conflicts or political instability in the regions, they are active in since the beginning of the pandemic, the report said.

This situation obviously impacted the level of food insecurity. A total of 155 million people were recorded as being affected by food insecurity in 2020 representing an increase of 20 million since 2019.

As the SIPRI report argues, violence affects food production since very often assets and resources are the targets of attacks. In some cases, armed forces seize land or livestock for their own purposes, leaving farmers unable to grow and harvest crops. Some violent actors decide to pass confiscated land to their loyal supporters who produce food for them. Conflicts also sometimes lead to illegal crop seizures as in Afghanistan or Colombia where farmers were forced to leave their land which armed forces then used to grow opium and cocoa.

Apart from production, violent conflicts also have a negative impact on the processing, distribution, sale, and purchase of foodstuff. In turn, food insecurity fuels social inequalities and these very often trigger social unrest, rebellions, and conflicts with people who are affected by inequalities being more willing to participate. Climate change-driven extreme weather events, population growth, urbanization, migration, income growth and distribution, as well as globalization, all contribute to food insecurity as well, fueling it and thus inciting conflicts.

Noting that most countries emerging from conflicts need up to 15-25 years to recover, the publication concluded that to achieve peace and curb conflicts, addressing food insecurity is essential as those two problems are deeply interconnected and cost humankind dearly.

There is no specific formula to calculate the cost of food insecurity and hunger. However, to grasp as at least some idea of this, another report covering just the USA, a country that can hardly be associated with food insecurity, says:

“The healthcare costs of hunger and food insecurity for one year (2014) in the United States are estimated at US$160.7 billion… Those estimates, combined with another US$18.8 billion in poor educational outcomes bring their total cost estimate to US$178.9 billion.”